Getting Them Off To College

If you were like me, you presumed that your children would be outstanding mental giants and every major University worth its weight in Greek Gold would invite your progeny to attend their institutions, gratis. You believed scholarships would define their paths and your offspring would win Nobel awards every other day of the week. As such I did not plan for their future education in a financially responsible manner.

Essentially, I don't have a dime to give them for school. As it stands now, the two who are ready for their higher education are scrambling to apply for grants and loans.

Nay. Scratch that. I am scrambling to apply on their behalf for grants and loans. Some of you may be smarter than I and are capable of telling your children that they can figure it out for themselves or go flip burgers. Unfortunately, I find myself throwing a party when my 20-year-old crosses the street alone. He barely graduated from High School, not because he is unintelligent; but because he is an eternal slacker and I enabled it. The day he walked with his classmates to accept his diploma my heart skipped several beats. This had nothing to do with pride, I was convinced that the school would realize they had made a huge mistake and pull him out of the formation.

You think I'm kidding?

This child chose to take a year to decide whether or not he would attend college. He kept telling me that he was "pondering it" and that he was "probably going to". My guess is that working at a local drug store and disappearing every night for PSP3 challenges with his buddies was getting old. Especially since his group of friends was drastically diminishing due to their choices to break out and go to school.

Just before Christmas of 2007 he announced, "I'm ready. What do I do?"

I was in the middle of a basket of hot buttery sourdough bread and "Northern Exposure" re-runs. On the OTHER SIDE of the country.

Yes, the boy lives with his father, and I live with my new husband. On THE OTHER SIDE of the country.

I think I was hoping he meant he was going to wash his latest load of laundry. I was used to explaining the sorting process. Alas, this was not the case. After I recovered from the initial shock and swallowed the lump of bread, washed it down with a pint of tequila (I'm kidding, although the thought did occur to me) I pulled up all the information I'd stored in my FAVORITES folder labeled "Kids/College".

You've definitely got to start with the the FAFSA website no matter how desperately you want to look at the latest retailers’ dorm collection. FAFSA is your portal to all things regarding the quest for higher learning financial aid. It's self-explanatory when you arrive at the page, they do outline rather succinctly what your role is as parent. I was very pleased at the ease with which it took to obtain a PIN number, which is your electronic signature. Both you and the student must apply for one if the student will use your income as part of their financial record.

My income for last year was abysmal. I wasn't married, I was essentially a single mother with three teenagers using Food Stamps to get from point A to point B. As a result, when my son received his SAR (Student Aid Report) the expected contribution from me as provider of room & board for the kid was nil.

We (I'm being generous, I did it) filled out the FAFSA forms, and submitted the information on December 13, 2007. Within two weeks, we knew what his grant amount would be and the first week of January we knew what his loan amount would be.

In the midst of all this cavorting with the Feds we were able to apply to his choice of school on line, and then enroll him online. We were in a time crunch, classes for the Winter/Spring semester started mid-January. He had to follow through by actually appearing (gasp!) at the school after calling the admissions office and setting up an appointment for the freshman orientation. I urged him to make the appointment right away. There were four orientations and the early bird gets the classes the early bird would like to take first. The application for enrollment was $30, and the enrollment process was $75. Don't confuse the two. Just because you send in an application it doesn't mean you've enrolled and been accepted. It sounds obvious I know, but the boy was confused.

Indeed, I tracked his efforts daily. "Are you going to the campus today? Are you? Huh? Are you?" I also urged him to go directly to the Financial Aid office to do a recon mission on any pertinent documentation the school might need. As it turns out, the boy had to sign a waiver agreeing on behalf of the school to claim any funding necessary to pay for tuition immediately from the Federal Grant he was awarded. When he received his loan information from the Financial Aid office, he was bewildered. "What? Huh? Mom!" Evidently it was necessary to choose a lender that would facilitate the funds from the loan. Part of the funds would go directly to the school to cover the rest of the tuition unpaid by the grant. We chose the lender he actually had an account with already. Any left over money would be transferred to his account to use at his discretion for books, incidentals such as the annual school parking permit and other incidentals. I told him, "This is not for you to purchase a new video game library, you dig? Keep all your receipts schnookie bear and it can be a tax write off. Got it? Someday, my love, you will have to pay this back with interest. Good luck with that."

On Monday of next week, he embarks upon a journey I took for granted. I received a full ride scholarship and didn't have a clue how fortunate I was. I'm not so clueless anymore.

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